Food Policy


City Gardens Abound In Cuba, Where 70% Of Vegetables And Herbs Are Local And Organic

HAVANA, June 4, 2008

(CBS/ Reinaldo Gil)

(CBS) This story was written by CBS News producer Portia Siegelbaum in Havana.
“Buy local. Eat seasonal. Eat organic.” All now commonplace admonitions in the United States.

But while none of these slogans are household words in Cuba, 70 percent of the vegetables and herbs grown on the island today are organic and the urban gardens where they are raised are usually within walking distance of those who will consume them. So in one blow Cuba reduced the use of fossil fuels in the production and transportation of food. And they began doing this nearly 20 years ago.

The island nation’s move to organic and sustainable farming did not arise from its environmental consciousness, although there was an element of that also. The main reason was the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba’s only source of petroleum and main trading partner at that time.

Overnight long lines formed at gas stations that all too often ran out before all their customers could fill up. Traffic was virtually non-existent. Chinese “Flying Pigeon” bicycles replaced both private and public transportation.

“Puestos” as Cubans call the produce section of their rationed grocery stores displayed only empty bins as agriculture ground to a halt. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers vanished. Tractors became relics of a former time. Oxen pulled the plows that furrowed the fields.

Finding food for the dinner table became a day-long drudge. Cubans visibly lost weight. The communist youth daily, Juventud Rebelde, ran articles on edible weeds. Daily caloric intake dropped to about 1600 calories.

Organic agriculture “made its appearance at that moment as a necessity and that necessity helped us to advance, to consolidate and expand more or less uniformly in all 169 municipalities,” says Adolfo Rodriguez. At 62, he is Cuba’s top urban agrarian, with 43 years experience in agriculture.

He says there are now 300,000 people employed directly in urban agriculture without counting those who are raising organic produce in their backyards as part of a State-encouraged grassroots movement. In all, Rodriguez claims nearly a million people are getting their hands dirty organically.

With 76 percent of Cuba’s population of just under 11 million living in cities, the importance of this form of farming cannot be over emphasized, says Rodriguez.

I think that Cuba’s urban agriculture has come to stay.
Adolfo Rodriguez, urban agrarian
The urban gardens have been dubbed “organoponicos.” Those located in never-developed empty lots primarily consist of raised beds. More complicated are those created in the space left by a collapsed building, not uncommon in cities like Havana where much of the housing is in a very deteriorated state and where all it takes is a heavy tropical rainfall followed by relentless sunshine to bring down a structure.

“We have to truck in the soil,” before anything can be planted, explains Rodriguez. “The basic issue is restoring fertility, the importance of producing compost, organic fertilizers, humus created by worms,” he says.

In a majority of cases the fruits and vegetables are freshly picked every morning and go on sale just with a few feet of where they grew. Only in exceptional cases, such as the densely population municipality of Old Havana (as the colonial section of the capital is named) do the organic fruits and vegetables travel a kilometer or so by a tricycle or horse drawn cart to reach consumers.

Havana residents line up at the organoponico at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue, which grows a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs. (CBS/Manuel Muniz)

Lucky are the Havana residents who live near the organoponico at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue. Occupying nearly an entire city block, it grows a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs, as well as ornamental plants. It will even sell fresh basil shoots for customers to plant in their own herb garden. On a recent day, customers were offered the following fresh produce at reasonable prices: mangos, plantains, basil, parsley, lettuce, garlic, celery, scallions, collard greens, black beans, watermelon, tomatoes, malanga, spinach and sweet potatoes.

Luckily for Cubans in general, organic here is not equivalent to expensive. Overhead costs are low. The produce is sold from simple aluminum kiosks, signs listing the day’s offer and prices are handmade, electricity is used only for irrigation, and no transportation other than walking from the raised beds to the kiosks is involved. The result? Everything is fresh, local and available.

Convincing Cubans to buy this produce, especially the less familiar vegetables, so as to prepare earth friendly meals, presented a hurdle. The ideal meal on the island includes roast pork, rice and beans and yucca. A lettuce and tomato salad was popular. But the idea of vegetable side dishes or an all vegetarian meal was inconceivable to most.

“We’re cultivating some 40-plus species but you have to know who your customers are,” says Rodriguez. “We can’t plant a lot of broccoli right now because its not going to sell but we’re making progress.” For example, he notes, in the beginning practically no one bought spinach. Now, all the spinach planted is sold. Persuading people to eat carrots, according to Rodriguez, was an uphill battle. “We had to begin supplying them to the daycare centers,” so as to develop a taste for this most common of root vegetables.

The “queen” of the winter crop is lettuce. The spring/summer “queen” is the Chinese string bean. Cuba’s blazing summer sun doesn’t allow for growing produce out of its season, even under cover, except in rare circumstances.

The saving of heritage fruits, vegetables and even animals has also gotten a boost from the urban agrarian movement. The chayote, a fleshy, pear-shaped single-seeded fruit, had virtually disappeared from the market. Now, Rodriguez says, 130 of Cuba’s 169 municipalities are growing the fruit that many remember from their grandmother’s kitchen repertoire in which it was treated as a vegetable, often stuffed and baked.

“We are working to rescue fruit orchards that are in danger of extinction,” stresses Rodriguez. “We’ve planted fields with fruit species that many of today’s children have never even seen, such as the sapote. To save these species we’ve created specialized provincial botanical gardens,” he explains.

Similarly, the urban agrarian movement is rescuing native animal species such as the Creole goat and the cubalaya chicken, the only native Cuban poultry species.

Currently spiraling global food prices are hitting the island hard. Cuba has been importing just over 80 percent of the food consumed domestically. The government is making more land and supplies available to farmers and this may well include chemical fertilizers and pesticides in an attempt to greatly reduce this foreign dependency.

Adolfo Rodriguez, Cuba’s top urban agrarian (CBS/Reinaldo Gil)

Rodriguez does not believe this push to quickly increase agricultural output will negatively impact on the urban organic movement. Even during the 1990s, known in Cuba as the “Special Period,” he says, the potato crop continued to receive chemical pesticides and fertilizers. And even today, the 30 percent of the non-organic produce includes, for example, large-scale plantings of tomatoes for industrial processing.

“I think that Cuba’s urban agriculture has come to stay,” concludes Rodriguez. “That there is a little increase in the application of fertilizers and pesticides for specific crops is normal but that’s not to say that the country is going to shift away from organic farming, to turn our organic gardens into non-organic ones.”

Seattle, known as the emerald city to some, has urban agriculture popping up all over the place.  I’m actually going there in the fall to work with Seattle Youth Garden Works as one of their AmeriCorps garden coordinators.  I’m so excited!  I can’t wait to be part of this awesome community.  Here’s an article that was recently in the PI about urban gardening and food security in Seattle.  Below that are a ton of links to urban gardening stuff in Seattle.  Enjoy!

Gordon, a lead gardener at Seattle Youth Garden Works, holds up the bucket of compost he’s been speading. 

 

Written by Jennifer Langston

for the Seattle Post Intelligencer (June 3, 2008)

Instead of fighting hunger with grocery-store handouts, some see part of the solution in gardens, apartment balconies and front yards.

Over the past five years, the amount of fruit and vegetables grown or harvested in Seattle neighborhoods for food banks and meal programs has doubled to more than 44,000 pounds.

Though just a fraction of what fuels the emergency food pipeline, it will help meet unprecedented needs this summer, given rising prices and lines of low-income people that have ballooned since the holidays.

“It’s really key to our success,” said Rick Jump, executive director of the White Center Food Bank, which has seen its weekly demand increase by nearly 40 percent in the past several months. “We’re all out there striving to find resources.”

Soon, the food bank will start getting apples and plums from West Seattle yards — part of a neighborhood fruit tree harvest program pioneered four years ago by Solid Ground, a social service organization.

There will also be fresh vegetables from gardens worked by Community Harvest of Southwest Seattle, a new volunteer group also offering canning, gardening and tree-care classes at senior centers and local grocery stores.

“We’re trying to increase access to local fresh fruits and vegetables, not only by providing them, but also by teaching people how to grow and preserve their own,” said founder and West Seattle resident Aviva Furman.

At City Hall, conversations are under way to figure out how to expand programs enabling low-income gardeners to sell produce directly to urban consumers.

Generally, it’s illegal to sell from city P-patches, except for a small-market garden program allowing immigrant farmers in public housing developments to sell weekly bags of greens and produce.

Even foodies are struggling to shed some of the movement’s preciousness — peopled by those with the time to debate local vs. organic, or make handmade truffle pasta from scratch — and become more egalitarian.

“Unfortunately, people can get really snotty about where their food comes from,” said Willi Galloway, a Seattle Tilth board member who has worked to spread organic gardening to lower-income communities.

 

graphic

 

“It’s something that’s fun that everyone can do, and I hope our city becomes a place where everyone has a place to grow their food, regardless of income.”

At a recent container-gardening class at the White Center Food Bank, Regina Bash scooped dirt from the bed of a pickup truck with a yogurt cup and poured it into a bucket.

She planted a sturdy tomato plant in one pot, with salad greens, carrots and radishes sharing another. There were discussions on the best way to pick sweet peas (often) and protect roots (carefully). Experts answered questions on the science of propagation and the art of watering.

At the end, Bash carefully loaded one pot in a backpack, stuffed the other in a rolling duffel bag and headed toward the bus stop.

“I’ve always wanted cherry tomatoes because I love them,” said Bash, who lives in an apartment with no yard. “But I have a balcony … so my little patio is waiting for me when I get home.”

A few blocks away, at newly renovated White Center Heights Park, 17 virgin garden plots will be tended by local residents and food bank clients this summer.

Katie Rains, a former Rat City Rollergirl, has volunteered to grow vegetables and herbs specifically for the food bank.

“They get a lot of produce donations,” said the 25-year-old Evergreen State College student. “But the things they’re not getting are more of the cultural foods — bok choy, Chinese cabbage, cilantro, peppers, eggplant.”

Immigrant farmers at Seattle Housing Authority developments such as New Holly and High Point have been selling produce out of community gardens there for the last decade.

Now, the city neighborhoods department that oversees P-patches and community gardens is considering how to widen the program to include other low-income gardeners.

That could involve making more land available, or creating farm stands or other means to distribute local produce. But a major expansion would likely require partners from the private sector, said Rich MacDonald, the P-patch program manager.

One complication is a state ban on allowing people to profit from public resources. That’s why some have entertained creating market gardens or urban agriculture training programs on private land owned by churches, individuals or other community organizations.

“It’s a nice stable little program, but it’s little,” MacDonald said of the market garden program. “And it’s hard to imagine without a lot of resources that it would get much bigger.”

Paul Haas, development director for Solid Ground, has just that kind of ambitious goal: Acquire 100 acres over the next 10 years for food bank, low-income and immigrant farmers.

“The thing that’s been lacking in this is a great tangible vision, like the Kennedy space program,” he said. “It starts with ‘here’s two acres, we have this site, let’s do it.’ “

Last week, Emiko Keller stopped by West Seattle’s High Point Market Garden on the first day of the season, picking up a bag of parsley, spinach, tah tsoi greens, radishes, bok choy and salad fixings.

High Point Market Garden

Her family splits a half “share” — which costs $310 for roughly four months — with a neighbor down the street.

“I like the feeling of this kind of community,” she said, after giving gardener Hien Vinh Nguyen a warm hug. “And I like the fact that I get … things I don’t normally see at the store.”

The garden’s proceeds will be split among five families this year, including Nguyen’s. A former South Vietnamese army officer, he spent 13 years in a Hanoi prison where he grew beans, rice, potatoes and vegetables on the prison farm.

In 1994, he immigrated to Seattle and helped build two community gardens at High Point.

“It’s extra money for the low-income people … and the customers are so happy,” he said. “It’s good for all the residents.”

 

Related Articles:

Urban Farming Sprouts in Seattle: Overlooked nooks and crannies colonized to grow food

 

Urban Agriculture in Seattle:

Longfellow Creek Garden

Growing Washington

Seattle Youth Garden Works

P-Patch Community Gardens

Seattle Tilth

WA Food System Wiki

Veg Seattle

Pick Your Own

Marra Farm

Community Harvest of Southwest Seattle

High Point Market Garden

Seattle Green Map Project

Seattle Farmers Markets

Seattle Urban Farm Company

Urban Garden Residence

Ballard Farmer’s Markets

Common Ground

Laughing Crow Farm

Farmhouse Organics

Eat Local Now!

100 Mile Diet- Sustainable Ballard

Sustainable Communities All Over Puget Sound (SCALLOPS)

Puget Sound School Gardens Collective

Lettuce Link

Growing Food, Growing Community

Seattle Dirt

Seattle Green Schools

Abundant Yards

Community Fruit Tree Harvest

Northwest Harvest

Cultivating Youth

Green Seattle Guide

“The Green Book”

Sustainable West Seattle

 

Grocery bills are rising through the roof. Food banks are running short of donations. And food shortages are causing sporadic riots in poor countries through the world.

You’d never know it if you saw what was ending up in your landfill. As it turns out, Americans waste an astounding amount of food — an estimated 27 percent of the food available for consumption, according to a government study — and it happens at the supermarket, in restaurants and cafeterias and in your very own kitchen. It works out to about a pound of food every day for every American.

Grocery stores discard products because of spoilage or minor cosmetic blemishes. Restaurants throw away what they don’t use. And consumers toss out everything from bananas that have turned brown to last week’s Chinese leftovers. In 1997, in one of the few studies of food waste, the Department of Agriculture estimated that two years before, 96.4 billion pounds of the 356 billion pounds of edible food in the United States was never eaten. Fresh produce, milk, grain products and sweeteners made up two-thirds of the waste. An update is under way.

Food, a Shrinking Burden

After President Bush said recently that India’s burgeoning middle class was helping to push up food prices by demanding better food, officials in India complained that not only do Americans eat too much — if they slimmed down to the weight of middle-class Indians, said one, “many people in sub-Saharan Africa would find food on their plate” — but they also throw out too much food.

Click here to read the rest of the New York Times article.

Here is an awesome blog all about wasted food

Thursday, July 17th – Asheville NC

Sponsored by the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project

and the Community Farm Alliance,

Southeast Regional Lead Agencies for the National Farm to School Network

 

 

What is Growing Minds Farm to School Program?

 

As part of a national farm to school initiative, Growing Minds is the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s (ASAP) farm to school training program. Growing Minds strives to cultivate mutually beneficial relationships between farms and schools that create dynamic, wellness-focused learning environments for our children. We do this by working with farmers, educators, and communities to serve local food in schools, while expanding opportunities for farm field trips, experiential nutrition education and school gardens. Currently at least one of these four components is being implemented in Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Madison, Mitchell, Rutherford, and Yancey County, as well as Asheville City Schools.

Who should attend the Farm to School Conference?

If you …

  • live/work in Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia or Florida AND
  • are either an agriculture professional, farmer, Child Nutrition Director, food distributor or school personnel AND
  • are currently involved in farm to school work or plan to be

YOU SHOULD BE THERE!!!

 

Workshop topics include:

Making the Pitch to Child Nutrition Directors

Policy Panel

Distribution: Opportunities and Challenges

Connecting Farm to School with Local Food Campaigns

Child Nutrition Directors’ Perspective

The National Farm to School Network and How Farm to School Works

The Education of Farm to School

 

Conference cost? $50 

Includes a full day of workshops, resource notebook, breakfast and lunch

 

Registration is limited. 

Sign up now to reserve your spot.

 

Registration Deadline is July 1st!

Email your registration and pay online

or

Download registration form

or

call 828-236-1282

Scholarships (that also cover travel expenses) are available on a first come, first serve basis. Contact Libby at libby@asapconnections.org or call her at 

 

828-236-1282.

 

Accommodations available the Four Points by Sheraton

 

Call the reservations department (828-253-1851 or 888-854-6897) and mention that you are with Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project (ASAP) and that the group has a rate offer and the reservationist will automatically extend your discounted rate ($150 per night for standard king and double rooms plus 10.75% tax

Travel information

Questions?

libby@asapconnections.org

828-236-1282

 

 

 

 

Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project

 

729 Haywood Rd., #3, Asheville, NC 28806

(828) 236-1282 (phone); (828) 236-1280 (fax)

www.asapconnections.org

 

We thought we were finally done with the farm bill after months and months of “negotiations,”  but we spoke too soon.  Apparently the House yesterday overruled a different version of the farm bill than the President signed, meaning that we’re back at the beginning.  Well, almost the beginning. This is just one more step to prove that the Bush Administration is pure evil.

I don’t think I have to remind anyone that an estimated 35.5 million Americans are food insecure; meaning their access to enough food is limited by a lack of money and other resources.  (USDA/ERS, Household Food Security in the United States: 2006).  Food Banks all over the country have been urging that the farm bill needs to be passed and put into place. 

Yesterday in a press release, America’s Second Harvest, the country’s largest food bank distributor commended the House for overruling the President’s veto.

“Demands are up, and food is down,” said Vicki Escarra, President of America’s Second Harvest. “This is one of the worst times that our food banks have experienced in recent years in terms of the level of need and our ability to meet the need. At the same time, food stamp benefits are eroding and food and fuel prices continue to soar.”

Food banks nationwide have experienced a dramatic decline of nearly $200 million in food donations from the USDA surplus commodity program in recent years as a result of a strong agriculture economy. The Farm Bill, which has been debated for months in Congress, would bring much needed immediate relief to this dire situation facing the nation’s charitable distribution Network by replenishing record low levels of food inventories at food banks and significantly improving food stamp benefits. It would increase the amount of mandatory funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) from $140 million a year to $250 million a year and index the amount for inflation. (May 21 Press Release)

 

So after reading what the farm bill could do to immediately help the hunger situation, read this….

 

WASHINGTON (AP) – The House overwhelmingly rejected President Bush’s veto of a $290 billion farm bill Wednesday, but what was to have been a stinging defeat for the president became an embarrassing episode for Democrats.

art.wheat.gi.jpg  

The House will try to pass a $290 billion farm bill again Thursday after a mixup the day before.

Only hours before the House’s 316-108 vote, Bush had vetoed the five-year measure, saying it was too expensive and gave too much money to wealthy farmers when farm incomes are high. The Senate then was expected to follow suit quickly.

Action stalled, however, after the discovery that Congress had omitted a 34-page section of the bill when lawmakers sent the massive measure to the White House. That means Bush vetoed a different bill from the one Congress passed, leaving leaders scrambling to figure out whether it could become law.

Democrats hoped to pass the entire bill, again, on Thursday under expedited rules usually reserved for unopposed legislation. Lawmakers also probably will have to pass an extension of current farm law, which expires Friday.

“We will have to repass the whole thing, as will the Senate,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. “We can’t let the farm bill just die.”

Republican leaders called for a farm bill do-over. The White House, almost gleefully, seized on the fumble and said the mixup could give Congress time to fix the “bloated” bill.

“We are trying to understand the ramifications of this congressional farm bill foul-up. We haven’t found a precedent for a congressional blunder of this magnitude,” said Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman. “It looks like it may be back to square one for them.”

“In all likelihood, you have to redo this process,” said Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 2 Republican and one of the 100 GOP lawmakers who broke with Bush in voting to override the veto. “I’d like to see a farm bill passed that no judge can say is not the farm bill.”

About two-thirds of the bill would pay for nutrition programs such as food stamps, about $40 billion is for farm subsidies, and $30 billion would go to farmers to idle their land and to other environmental programs.

Congressional Republicans overwhelmingly abandoned Bush in voting to pass the bill last week. They overlooking its cost amid public concern about the weak economy and high gas and grocery prices. Supporters praised the spending on food stamps and emergency food aid.

Before the problem with the bill was discovered, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the bill could make the situation worse for struggling families.

“Members are going to have to think about how they will explain these votes back in their districts at a time when prices are on the rise,” she said. “People are not going to want to see their taxes increase.”

Wednesday’s snag stemmed from an error made while printing the legislation on parchment before sending it to Bush.

Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, said the section in question — which deals with trade and international food aid programs — was never printed. Indeed, the final 628-page version of the bill jumps straight from “Title II” on conservation programs to “Title IV” on nutrition programs.

Democrats proposed bringing up and passing the missing section separately and sending that to Bush, thus allowing the entire measure to become law. But Republicans argued that might not be constitutional because Bush actually vetoed a version that Congress never considered.

The bill would make small cuts to direct payments, which are distributed to some farmers no matter how much they grow. It also would eliminate some payments to individuals with more than $750,000 in annual farm income or married farmers who make more than $1.5 million.

Previously, negotiators were considering a $950,000 income cap for individuals on farm income.

Individuals who make more than $500,000 or couples who make more than $1 million jointly in nonfarm income also would not be eligible for subsidies.

Under current law, there is no income limit for farmers, and married couples who make less than one-fourth of their income from farming will not receive subsidies if their joint income exceeds $5 million.

The administration originally proposed a cap for those who make more than $200,000 in annual gross income but later indicated that it could accept a limit of $500,000.

The bill also would:

  • Boost nutrition programs, including food stamps and emergency domestic food aid by more than $10 billion over 10 years. It would expand a program to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to schoolchildren.
  • Increase subsidies for certain crops, including fruits and vegetables excluded from previous farm bills.
  • Extend dairy programs.
  • Increase loan rates for sugar producers.
  • Urge the government to buy surplus sugar and sell it to ethanol producers for use in a mixture with corn.
  • Cut a per-gallon ethanol tax credit for refiners from 51 cents to 45 cents. The credit supports the blending of fuel with the corn-based additive. More money would go to cellulosic ethanol, made from plant matter.
  • Require that meats and other fresh foods carry labels with their countries of origin.
  • Stop allowing farmers to collect subsidies for multiple farm businesses.
  • Reopen a major discrimination case against the Agriculture Department. Thousands of black farmers who missed a deadline would get a chance to file claims alleging that they were denied loans or other subsidies.
  • Pay farmers for weather-related farm losses from a new $3.8 billion disaster relief fund.
  • CNN Politics, May 21, 2008

    In a rapid rebuke of President Bush’s efforts for fiscal restraint, the House voted to override his veto today of a $307 billion farm bill and the Senate was poised to follow suit Thursday.

    Only hours before the House’s 316-108 vote, Bush had vetoed the five-year measure, saying it was an unnecessary gift to midland farmers at the expense of taxpayers and gave too much money to wealthy farmers when farm incomes are high.

    The veto was the 10th of Bush’s presidency. Congress so far has overridden him once, on a water projects bill. (In quick vote, House overrides Bush veto of farm bill, SF Chronicle)

    ——————————————————————————–

    Empty Shelves at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington DC. CAFB has seen a 37-percent increase over last year in the demand for the ‘Hungar Lifeline,’ an emergency food assistance program. At the same time the bank is facing a 25-percent decrease in produce donated during the 3rd quarter of this year versus 2005. 

    “On behalf of the 25 million Americans that we serve, I commend the House of Representatives for its leadership in taking one more step to enact a Farm Bill that will help hungry Americans,” said Vicki Escarra, president and chief executive officer of America’s Second Harvest—The Nation’s Food Bank Network. “There is nothing more important right now to low-income Americans and the nation’s food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens than bringing a strong nutrition title in a new Farm Bill to every community nationwide.”

    In a recent survey of 180 food banks, respondents reported an increase of 15-20 percent on average in the number of people turning to their food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens for help. More than 90 percent of respondents reported that increasing food and fuel prices are primary driving forces in increasing demands. Further, more than 80 percent of food bank respondents reported that they are unable to adequately meet the needs of increased demands for emergency food assistance without reducing the amount of food available to agencies or clients or cutting back operations. ( America’s Second Harvest Applauds House Override Of President’s Veto)

    ——————————————————————————–

    Taken from the Community Food Security Coalition listserve on May 21, 2008

    The Irony of a Bush Farm Bill Veto:

    Katherine Ozer – National Family Farm Coalition

     President Bush’s veto of the 2008 Farm Bill further adds to the bewildering debate around it, confusing advocates for progressive policies that support sustainable family farmers instead of factory farms and corporate agribusiness.  He has been quoted as saying “…lawmakers were not doing enough to limit payments to wealthy landowners, many of whom don’t farm”.  This message comes from an Administration that has championed payments and programs benefiting not only wealthy landowners but corporate agribusiness, exporters, the livestock industry, food processors, and grain traders at every step.

     We agree that loopholes for those who don’t farm – whether land investors or McMansion developers – should be closed, but limiting which farms can participate in farm and conservation programs due to off-farm income is not the answer. The Bush Administration is virtually silent on the real bad actors contributing to our broken industrial food system; they get a free pass. Why don’t they care that owners of mega-dairy and -livestock operations can tap up to $300,000 in taxpayer subsidies to clean up their pollution through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)? Or that Bush’s “Justice Department” appears poised to approve the pending JBS-Brazil acquisition of two of the top five beef packing companies in the U.S. that will make a Brazilian company the largest beef packer in the U.S. and the world, which threatens the livelihoods of virtually all America’s ranchers.

     The Bush Administration, while touting an anti-subsidy line for wealthy farmers, has irresponsibly and continually ignored what would be responsible measures to stabilize commodity prices for farmers:  an effective government policy that includes a strategic food reserve to help stabilize volatile food prices for consumers, a price floor reflecting the true costs of production for farmers, and meaningful conservation and land stewardship programs.  Without policies that ensure farmers receive a fair market price – not just in times of crisis or through misguided demand-driven policies like ethanol production – taxpayer-supported payments or subsidies become essential to cushion low prices and to avert widespread foreclosures and rural community shutdowns.  For these reasons the National Family Farm Coalition does not support the commodity title of this farm bill.

     The Administration has opposed the decade-long efforts of Senator Grassley and others supporting real structural market reforms and to restore competition in livestock markets to provide independent family livestock operators fair access to their markets.  This competition is being blocked by increasing market concentration with four companies controlling 80 per cent of the meat slaughtered in the U.S.

     Responding to questions on the rise of global food prices during an April 29 White House press conference, President Bush stated that we should “…buy food from local farmers as a way to help deal with scarcity, but also…to put in place an infrastructure so that nations can be self-sustaining and self-supporting…” This is the correct position on international food aid and one with which we agree yet it is ironic that the Bush Administration’s continued support for free trade and the WTO has contributed to the crisis by dismantling the domestic food production in many of these countries.  On May 2, President Bush advocated lifting restrictions on exports and concluding the Doha round of the WTO to help solve the world’s food crisis.  He further stressed the cultivation of genetically engineered crops under the false pretense that they resist extreme weather conditions and increase yields.

     This message in the midst of the farm bill negotiations helps explain the Administration’s position on the bill:  they truly care more about completing the Doha round than enacting sensible domestic farm policy.  It is ironic that the direct farm payments most criticized by the San Francisco Chronicle, the editorial boards of the New York Times and the Washington Post are the payments explicitly allowed under the World Trade Organization (WTO), i.e., payments that are decoupled and delinked from production.

    It has never been more critical to the survival of millions around the world that we define the problem correctly and pursue a solution that builds food sovereignty.  While higher prices for grain, seed, and fertilizer fueled by speculative trading practices contribute to escalating food prices, the significant role of diesel fuel prices in both the farm production and distribution systems must be addressed at domestic and global levels.  The excessive corporate profiteering of oil and grain companies must be exposed and curtailed.

    We need to re-establish programs and policies that authorize farmer and country control over agricultural production systems, including the right to limit low-cost imports that destabilize local, agrarian-based economies.  This is an essential step to stabilizing the farm and food economy globally. It must start with the people and the communities on the ground – not with corporate agribusiness, misguided free trade agreements, oil companies, and GE-seed representatives

     

    What do you think?  Should the Farm Bill be vetoed or not?  Below I’ve listed a couple of websites that might help you figure out what you think…

    Click here to read to presidential Farm Bill veto message.

    Other articles about the Farm Bill

    Siding with the Bushies? from Grist

    Ag Observatory Farm Bill website

    Food Banks Urge Passage Of Historic Farm Bill To Help Hungry Americans

    Accra.jpg

    IDRC Photo: Monica Rucki
    Urban Farming in Accra

    “While we in the urban West congratulate ourselves on innovations like the 100-Mile Diet and eating food raised close to home, much of Africa has been quietly surviving on the 100-metre version.

    “Their produce isn’t trucked halfway across the continent. Some of it grows in greenspace hacked right out of city landscapes.

    “That’s why you’ll see lettuce under power lines, and cassavas in the culverts.
    “But harvesting the cities may not just be practical. In times of soaring food prices, it might help make the difference between a stable society and civil unrest.

    “So you have to wonder; why is it still such a struggle? Canadian journalist Kim Brunhuber began his quest for answers in Uganda.

    Listen to Kim’s story on Dispatches.
    See Contents May 12/18 2008.
    11 minutes 33 seconds.

    Books about African Urban Agriculture:

    URBAN AGRICULTURE IN WEST AFRICA
    Contributing to Food Security and Urban Sanitation

    CITIES FEEDING PEOPLE
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